While working on my seminary degree I have taken many classes that are challenging, informative, and edifying. However, the one that has taught and encouraged me the most in God’s work and God’s Word is the one that I least expected: Church History.
We often think of history as dull and boring. Add the word “church” to it and all we picture is old men in old buildings reading old books. How could such things be of value to the modern believer? How could learning about past Christians benefit Christians today? There are many reasons, but let me share just a few.
1. Church history is fascinating.
Though history can be seen as boring, the history of the Christian church is not. It involves empires, lions, wars, debates, treason, missions, and global expansion. Church history is about kings, monks, warriors, lawyers, farmers, and explorers. Every century is packed with stories of men and women who did extraordinary acts for the Kingdom of God. Men and women were martyred in the Colosseum. Monks stood up to kings under punishment of death. Christians from around the world started global missions that sent Christians to every corner of the earth. Christian history is not merely a hub-drub list of councils and meetings, it is a long and epic story about a hardworking people and their faithful God.
2. Church history helps us learn from the mistakes of the past.
George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Christians can heed these words by learning not only the victories of Christianity in history, but also its failures. Many people have done great wrongs in the name of Christ. The Spanish Inquisition, the crusades, numerous cults, false-teachers, false-gospels, and corrupt governments are scattered throughout the history of the church. We often think there is no way we could repeat these events. However, history proves otherwise. Studying the past helps believers avoid the patterns that lead to these problems. This is beneficial for us and for our churches.
3. Studying Church History is a great way to study theology.
Remember the “old men” and “old books” I mentioned in the beginning? To be honest with you, those men and their books are in many ways the most interesting and helpful parts of Christian history. Today every church has a list of doctrinal beliefs that they hold as core truth, rooted in Scripture. What many Christians do not realize is the painstaking time, effort, and dedication it took the great theologians of history to prove and solidify these core teachings as biblical truths. Dozens of councils were held and thousands of hours were spent in order to discern what the Bible teaches about the deity of Christ, the tri-unity of God, and the role of works in salvation. Though most of us see these as settled theology, it has not always been so. Men and women were fed to beasts and burned at stakes standing for these vital truths. Studying church history allows us to see these key doctrines defended. They were forged on the anvil of adversity with the hammer of debate and study in a heat provided by a fiery passion for God’s truth. Church history shows us the triumphs and the troubles involved in fighting for the precious truths of God’s Word.
For these reasons and more, I believe you should study church history. Not merely for a head knowledge that puffs up, but for a passion and joy that comes from observing God’s sovereign work in history through his people for his kingdom. But where do you begin?
Ridgeview Bible Church is doing two things to help introduce you to church history. First, every Thursday this summer we will be hosting “Theology Thursdays: Church History” a.k.a. “Throwback Thursdays.” We will be exploring the history of Christianity from Christ to today. The study will cover the major people, events, and theological debates of the past 2000+ years. Second, between now and this summer we will be publishing blog posts about historical events and people to get you thinking about the importance of history. So expect one of those very soon and we hope to see you at Theology Thursdays this summer!